'We Are Boats': Film Review

Runs aground.
3/8/2019

After suffering an untimely death, a woman is sent back to the land of the living to help others in James Bird's fantasy drama.

It's too bad that ordinary moviegoers don't have the opportunity to read the press notes for the movies they're seeing. They often prove far more interesting than the films themselves. Case in point: James Bird's indie fantasy drama, which, we're informed, represents the "first completely vegan set." And that the cast is "50% female and 41% people of color, with a 45% women crew." The effort at diversity is certainly admirable. So, too, is providing a healthy diet for the cast and crew. But it unfortunately doesn't make the film any more palatable a viewing experience.

We Are Boats (not a title that looks enticing on a marquee) revolves around Francesca (Angela Sarafyan, Westworld), a prostitute who meets an untimely end at the hands of a client. After dying, Francesca has an otherworldly job interview with an officious figure dubbed "Sir" (Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black), who promptly sends her back to Earth to help guide various people through their predicaments. Francesca's reward, should she fulfill her duties effectively, will be to have the opportunity to say a final goodbye to a loved one.

The hapless folks with whom she comes into contact include an unhappily married man (Jack Falahee) with whom she has sex (apparently, some habits die hard, even for an angel); an obviously dying man (Graham Greene, far better than the material) desperately attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter; a homeless woman (Amanda Palmer, succumbing to the material) who displays a remarkably cheerful attitude about her lot in life; and an engaged couple facing relationship issues. In the last scenario, the insecure Lucas (Luke Hemsworth) decides to test the fidelity of his bartender fiancee Ryan (Adrian Mather) by having his sexy friend (Justin Cornwell) hit on her.

The film doesn't come close to succeeding with its unwieldy mixture of episodic melodrama and afterlife fantasy. The dialogue and situations rarely rise above the level of cliche, and the ensemble featuring several estimable performers are mostly adrift. It's not hard to guess that there are connections among the various characters that will eventually be revealed, and none of them have a rewarding payoff. And that's when you are able to make sense of the confusing, jumbled narrative that never satisfyingly coheres.

The well-meaning film might have worked to some degree if writer-director Bird had infused the proceedings with a little understated humor. Instead, it's all played so deadly seriously that the results come across as turgidly pretentious. But not as pretentious as the "Director's Statement" in the press notes (sorry, but it's hard to resist) in which he encourages everyone who sees the film to start conversations with strangers, specifically by making eye contact with someone you don't know and saying hello. The idea, much like We Are Boats itself, is much better in theory than execution.  

Production: Zombot Pictures
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Cast: Angela Sarafyan, Luke Hemsworth, Amanda Pummer, Adriana Mather, Justin Corwell, Jack Falahee, Gaia Weiss, Booboo Stewart, Graham Greene, Uzo Aduba
Director-screenwriter: James Bird
Producers: James Bird, Adriana Mather, Anya Remizova
Director of photography: Stefan Colson
Production designer: Jonathan Bell
Composer: Anya Remizova
Costume designer: Tati Romero

108 minutes